Piercing (2018) – analysis and ending explained

It goes without saying that this review will be filled to the brim with spoilers, so steer away from it if you haven’t seen Nicolas Pesce’s Piercing but read it carefully if you have and are confused/frustrated about its ending. If you want to know what all the fuss is about, please check my spoiler-free review of the movie.

At its core, Piercing follows the character of Reed: he’s a married, employed man who just had a son from the wife he loves. However, he’s deeply unsatisfied, he feels like his life is missing something, thus he decides to rent a hotel room and kill a prostitute in there.

For those of you who don’t know, Piercing the movie is based on Piercing the novel (1994) by the great Ryu Murakami – who also wrote the novel Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999) is based on. I, therefore, read the novel to see if I could get a better understanding of the film. This is something I never do, and I will rarely do it again in the future for a simple reason: a movie is a universe onto itself, movies and books are different media, thus it’s pointless and unnecessary to compare one to the other.

What’s the story of Piercing about?

In short, what emerges from both the novel and the film adaptation is that Piercing is a psychosexual horror tale that revolves around that side of human frustration (that can sometimes revolve around sex) which everyone of us has.

Reed goes to kill a prostitute just as a ‘normal’ person goes fishing to be alone at the lake, far from their day-to-day duties. In this sense, the meaning of the movie – which is also what I got from reading Murakami’s brilliant book – is that ‘killing a prostitute’ is nothing more than a metaphor for satisfying whatever frustration we have. To avoid killing is new-born son with an ice pick, Reed needs to divert his frustration to another victim.

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The main character of Piercing goes to a place that’s reminiscent of a dollhouse town, with its somewhat fake and two-dimensional aesthetics and locations. To me, it means that, realistically, you’ll never be able to live a life without a tad bit of frustration: it’s only in your head, in your fantasy that you’ll be perfect. This idea is also shown in the movie through Reed’s hysterical preparation to kill the prostitute: he’s in the hotel room, where he rehearses his movies, giving the audience some darkly hilarious sequences.

Of course, once he meets the prostitute, nothing goes as planned. First and foremost, because life is different from imagination: no matter how hard and for how long you practise, in real life things will never, ever go as you planned or hoped for. Nonetheless, Reed’s plan to kill the prostitute also fails due to the psychotic nature of his target: Jackie (the prostitute) is, in fact, more insane than Reed, as we see her self-harming in quite painful and gruesome ways.

Jackie’s confrontation with her own frustrations – which appears to come from a deep need for love and acceptance – is what makes Reed fail. From here on, the audience follows one of the weirdest romances ever portrayed in horror cinema, where two damaged people get to know each other better while they torture one another.

Piercing – ending explained

This messed up relationship escalates over the course of the last 30 minutes of the film, where more and more disturbing or plain weird content is displayed on screen: however, the ending is 100% anti-climactic and, as I pointed out in my original review, will most likely leave the viewer fully unsatisfied and, get this, frustrated.

Although the ending of Murakami’s novel didn’t provide all the answers on a silver plate, Nicolas Pesce goes the extra mile with his movie adaptation. Here, the film abruptly ends as the two characters are speaking with one another! The film Piercing, indeed, doesn’t have a proper conclusion and will most likely leave you screaming at the screen… if you didn’t fully understand its meaning.

Since the thread of this picture is the theme of frustration, the director made the very ballsy (yet brilliant) choice of having the audience experience the same exact emotions the characters feel throughout the film.

Is Reed going to kill Jackie or will Jackie murder him? Will they, instead, run away together and live happily ever after? Is Reed’s psychopathy connected to a traumatic experience he had as a child or is he just a messed-up individual whose sexual and boring life drove to insanity? What’s the motivation behind Jackie’s unstable behaviour? Does she want Reed to kill her or is she playing mind games with the poor bastard?

None of these questions are answered in the movie (and only a few are resolved in the novel), which is great: it’s great not because closure is a bad thing; it’s great because it perfectly fits the story and its meaning; it’s great because the director had the audacity to tell its audience they will leave theatres as frustrated and unsatisfied as the characters in the picture they just watched.

Similarly to The Eyes of My Mother, what Nicolas Pesce wants the viewer to experience is the journey: the ending doesn’t matter, it never does. Piercing is not intended to end on a high note, it’s a cinematic experience that drags the viewer in, immerses the audience in the same universe as the characters in the film. As such, Piercing’s ending is very similar to that of American Psycho: it’s a non-ending.

Conclusions

Besides all of that, as I said in my spoiler-free take on the movie, Piercing is heavily inspired by the films of Takashi Miike (in terms of structure and plain weirdness), Dario Argento (when it comes to cinematography and, mostly, music) and Wes Anderson (for the subtle and situational comedy). If you’re not sold on this, I don’t know what to tell you.

Jokes aside, if Piercing doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, please click on the image below to watch The Eyes of my Mother, Nicolas Pesce’s impressive directorial debut: although it’s not a movie for everyone, it’s definitely more accessible than Piercing.

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